Wednesday, January 18, 2006

More Comfort

Good day-

Where were we? Oh yes -- comfort.

I put "A Pattern Language" thumbnail on the last post. Trust me when I tell you that it's worth every penny it costs. It's almost 1200 pages, but it's printed on the very fine paper that hymnals used to use, so it fits in your hand instead of taking up a whole shelf. It's a pleasure just to thumb the pages. If you're expecting big photographs, or egads, color photographs, you' re barking up the wrong tree. The print is small, the photos are generally thumbnail sized, and their are little ink sketches to outline the building process as the six authors see it. The exceptions are the title pages for the 253 different "patterns" -- the elements of an architectural, environmental, or organizational problem the authors have identified and devised a rule of thumb for; these pictures demonstrate an archetype of the original dilemma, or more usually, an existing solution for the topic. Almost every single photo makes you point and call someone over and say: Look at this! This is what I'm talking about! This is wonderful! I want this!

That approach alone is unusual today. Books about any manual art consist of big pictures with a little supporting text nowadays. Design books and Architectural Magazines are essentially all pictures now. As a manual for doing anything, most modern books boil down to: "this is what you do when you do this." That's fine and all, but it's in the oral tradition really. And surprisingly, although the "Pattern Language" authors believe very heavily in the oral tradition, the book is a massive slab of text. I guess an overarching scheme for the whole of humanity's housing needs requires a lot of words; it won't suffice to have a few pictures accompanied by "Put tenon A into mortise B, repeat until the surface of the world is covered with dwellings. "

To begin each Pattern, there is a picture of an archetype for the problem at hand. Then, an introductory paragraph which puts the photo in context. Then a headline, which states the essence of the problem. Then comes the empirical information so you can see how they worked their way through the problem. Then in bold print, is their solution to the problem, stated in the form of instruction, so you can DO it. Then a little diagram, drawn as we used to draw in architecture school, showing in diagrammatic form the the components of the solution; these can be as simple as labeled bubbles.

Let's have an example. I'm going to use #128, because it's one of the most important, fundamental, and overlooked aspects of housing:


[There's a beautiful, luminous b/w phot of a room with tall ceilings, and one wall with casements above casements above casements. The room is very old. There is a round table on a deal plank floor, with a mixture of sizes, styles, and types of chairs and cushions. The ceiling is 15 feet high, at least; the room is very large, but the sunlight gets to the deepest recesses of it, and paints ever changing patterns of tracery on the floor and furnishings. There are twenty four windows ganged together, of three different styles, three rows of eight. The effect is sublime. ]

Our authors do not pussyfoot, to get the wiggle room of the vague; they state it plainly:

If the right rooms are facing south, a house is bright and sunny and cheerful; if the wrong rooms are facing south, the house is dark and gloomy.

In case you missed their point, and wanted to quibble, the next paragraph begins:

Everyone knows this.

Amen, brother. But as they say right after, they get " confused by other considerations."

Now I've been in your houses. (figuratively) Many of us are fighting this uphill battle constantly because the house was oriented without regard to sunlight and climate, and you keep trying to fight the power. How are you going to fight something as fundamental as that? And why sled uphill if you don't have to?

The authors take into account thermal considerations by climate, and help you to orient your domicile properly in any clime from Minneapolis to the equator. It's not always dead south. This is one you must get right, or if you can't choose how the house is oriented, work towards ameliorating the effects of poor orientation.

There's plenty of information to "show their work," and they sum it up thus:

"Place the most important rooms along the south edge of the building, and spread the building out along the east -west axis.
Fine tune the arrangement so that the proper roooms are exposed to the southeast and the southwest sun... For most climates, this means the shape of the building is elongated east-west."
Well, I did just that in the house I live in now, and I've seen the effects of this salubrious orientation for over a decade, and it's spot on. They go one to tie it in with other aspects of building patterns they cover elsewhere in the book, and show you with a sketch how to do it. Fantastic.

(To Be Continued)

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